WLP’s Terry L. Fromson Honored as Trailblazer

Fromson honored for spearheading legal reform to improve systemic response to violence against women Terry L. Fromson, managing attorney of the Women’s Law Project, has been chosen to receive a prestigious 20/20 Vision Award from the American Bar Association Commission on Domestic & Sexual Violence. Marking its 20th anniversary, the Commission created the 20/20 Vision Award to honor 20 lawyers who have played key roles in improving societal response to domestic and sexual violence. Fromson will be honored along with Vice President Joe Biden, who introduced the Violence Against Women Act in 1990, Senator Patrick Leahy, and other visionary leaders from across the country. One of Fromson’s many accomplishments noted by the Commission is her pioneering work exposing disgraceful and widespread practices of insurance companies that discriminated against domestic violence victims. As it so often does, Fromson’s inquiry began when a courageous woman reported that she was denied health, life and mortgage insurance because she had told her doctor she was assaulted by her husband. After investigating the details of this woman’s case, Fromson worked with allies to collect documentation of similar stories, and analyzed insurance company regulations and procedures regarding domestic violence. Fromson discovered that insurance companies were using information about abuse learned from medical records and insurance databases to deny insurance altogether, charge increased premiums, cancel coverage, and refuse to pay claims. And they were doing it in health, life, disability, and property insurance. In some cases, insurance companies refused to provide group coverage for a business if any employees had a documented history of domestic violence. Such discrimination has dangerous consequences. For example, if a batterer set a spouse’s house on fire, the insurance company could deny the claim made by the victim by using an exclusion for “intentional acts.” Through this practice, insurance companies were essentially helping abusers achieve their goal of leaving victims without any options or ability to recover, or move on. After investigating and documenting the problem, Fromson and allies spearheaded legal reform by working with insurance regulators and lawmakers to draft legislation. Since then, 45 states and D.C. have passed legislation that prohibits insurers from using a history of domestic violence to inform coverage. Battling insurance discrimination is just one of many pioneering projects Fromson has undertaken through her career, which has been entirely dedicated to serving the public interest. In Pennsylvania, Fromson helped change the law to provide victims of domestic violence a safe and confidential process to change their names. In Philadelphia, Fromson played a leading role in a 15-year campaign to improve police and prosecutorial responses to sexual assault and domestic violence, which ultimately led to the FBI...

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WLP Joins Rally for the Agenda for Women’s Health

On Monday, a sea of pink flooded the Capitol for Planned Parenthood’s Day of Action. Women’s Law Project was there to join constituents in asking Pennsylvania lawmakers to support the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health. The Agenda is a legislative package of bills designed to promote and protect the health and economic security of women in Pennsylvania. Agenda bills are sponsored and supported by members of the Women’s Health Caucus, a bipartisan, pro-choice caucus of the Pennsylvania Legislature. Since the first wave of Agenda bills was introduced last session, more than a dozen bills have been introduced, and three have successfully passed into law. We were thrilled to join young women and men from all over the state, many who were visiting the Capitol for the first time, to express their support for the Agenda and concern that too often in Pennsylvania politics, “women’s health” is just code for “abortion restriction.” “What a thrill to be surrounded by hundreds of women’s health activists fighting for the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health,” says Sue Frietsche, Senior Staff Attorney at Women’s Law Project in Pittsburgh. “The Capitol looked beautiful in pink.” Pennsylvania consistently ranks as one of the worst states for women’s health andeconomic security. It’s clear we need less rhetoric and more solutions to the very real problems faced by women in Pennsylvania. For example, did you know that women who work at small businesses in Pennsylvania have less protections against sexual harassment than employees at large corporations? It’s true. An Agenda bill has been proposed to close that legal loophole by extending the protections of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, which prohibits sexual discrimination, to all companies across the state. Even though pregnancy discrimination is technically illegal, in practice, some employers try to force pregnant workers off the job by refusing to provide minor temporary accommodations such as letting an employee sit on a stool or carry a bottle of water. We routinely receive phone calls from women around the state who are stuck in this situation. The Agenda’s “Reasonable Accommodations for Pregnant Workers” would ensure that women are not forced to choose between employment and a healthy pregnancy.Philadelphia and Pittsburgh passed limited local protections, but the rest of the women in state are left without protection. Women’s Law Project attorney Amal Bass, who testified in support of the Philadelphia ordinance, addressed the crowd on the Capitol steps. “There are many women who will never need a workplace accommodation during their pregnancies, but for individuals who do, the consequences are dire when their employer refuses to provide one,” said Bass. “Let’s make it happen. The health and economic security...

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Women’s Law Project Heads to the PA Progressive Summit

by Tara Murtha, WLP Staff As a non-profit Pennsylvania-based organization dedicated to advancing the legal status of women and girls, we are, of course, heading up to Harrisburg for the Progressive Summit today. These are a few of the panels that you will not want to miss: At 11AM on Saturday, Senior Staff Attorney Sue Frietsche—a well-recognized expert in policy and regulations relating to reproductive healthcare in Pennsylvania–will co-host a session called “Abortion in the U.S.: The Good and the Bad, and the Local.” This panel will describe the state of abortion rights after the 2014 state legislative session, including both harmful and progressive laws, implications for abortion care and law in Pennsylvania, and how the way we talk about abortion can change the way people think and legislators act. The panel will also discuss opportunities to change abortion access and the culture around abortion in your local community, regardless of the politics in Harrisburg. Frietsche is co-hosting the panel with Jordan Goldberg, Senior Counsel for the National Institute for Reproductive Health; Sari Stevens, Executive Director of Planned Parenthood PA Advocates; and Ravina Daphtary, Senior State Strategies Manager at All Above All. Right after that session, we’re heading over to “The Agenda for Women’s Health: Where This Groundbreaking Package of Bills is Heading in 2015.” The Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health is a bipartisan, pro-choice package of bills that is changing the conversation around reproductive healthcare in the Capitol and the public sphere. Since it was introduced last legislative session, Pennsylvania has been lauded as a model for developing proactive legislation to protect women’s reproductive freedom and economic security amid unprecedented anti-choice legislative attacks. With a pro-women’s health governor at the helm, will we see the attacks on reproductive health diminish and efforts to strengthen women and families flourish? This session will explore this, and other pertinent questions. At 5:00PM, Associate Director of Strategic Communications Tara Murtha will co-host Media Training 101 with Keystone Progress Communications Director John Neurohr. This session will detail what to expect when talking to reporters, strategies to keep in mind when trying to get “earned media” for your organization, and how to use all available media platforms to get your message out. Participants will learn about building relationships with journalists and outlets, about proactive and reactive media outreach and how to think about media from the perspective of a journalist, not just from your perspective. We are also looking forward to attending a slew of workshops and panels that address eliminating discrimination and securing economic prosperity in Pennsylvania. In particular, we are interested in “Building the Movement for Reproductive Justice,” co-hosted by Jasmine Burnett and Julia...

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Solutions for Intimate Partner/Domestic Violence

To effectively combat epidemic rates of domestic violence in the U.S., an integrated response system and services infrastructure is required. Behavioral and Physical Health Care Victims of intimate partner violence in all 67 PA counties should have access to IPV services in health care settings. This includes trauma-informed care. Health care providers should routinely assess for IPV, including increased screening at pediatric emergency centers of adults who seek treatment for their children, to determine whether adults have experienced IPV. IPV victims are more likely to seek medical care for their children than they are for themselves. Courts Judges, court personnel, and mental health professionals should be educated about domestic violence and stalking and the importance of addressing victim and child safety in protection from abuse (PFA) and custody determinations. Access to legal assistance for victims of intimate partner violence should be increased. PA must increase and expand court-sponsored assistance for those representing themselves (“pro se litigants”), beyond the assistance courts may currently provide at intake. Law Enforcement The Pennsylvania State Police should include domestic violence and stalking education in its annual training. Currently, this training is not required. Better training on these issues sensitizes officers to the obstacles IPV and stalking victims face, helping them respond appropriately, so as to protect victims and increase the safety of the community. Police response to IPV must be improved and myths and biases that deter appropriate police response must be eliminated. Government Both the U.S. government and the Pennsylvania state government should enact legislation to prohibit the eviction from or denial of public housing based on a victim’s history of domestic violence. Services       Pennsylvania should increase funding for IPV services. The availability, early use, and quality of batterer treatment programs should be expanded and improved. Research should be pursued to determine which models are most effective to reduce battering. Pennsylvania should institute statewide domestic violence data collection. PA does not currently collect data on number of incidences and medical visits related to domestic violence. Employment Pennsylvania should enact legislation to provide paid leave for victims of IPV and stalking and mandate other employer protections in the workplace. Community PA should adopt coordinated local response approaches to IPV statewide. This means the integration of law enforcement, advocates, health care providers, social services, employers and schools. This system will work better and faster for...

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Solutions for Sexual Assault on College Campus

An appropriate and effective response team to handle sexual harassment and assault in school environments requires coordinated programming and action by multiple actors at the school, state, and federal level. For K-12 Schools: Adopt and publicize a non-discrimination policy that outlines the school’s responsibilities with respect to responding to sexual violence and identifies procedures to be followed and the identity of staff to contact if sexual victimization is experienced or observed. Provide early education on sexual harassment and sexual assault be integrating gender violence into the curriculum so that students understand what it is, that it is not acceptable and how to report it. Implement bystander education programs, which engage students by imagining every person as a potential witness (rather than the victim or perpetrator) of sexual violence. Provide mandatory education to the entire school staff by recognized experts in the area of sexual violence on how to identify sexual harassment and how to respond to it. For Colleges & Universities Adopt a sexual harassment policy that is readily available and clearly describes all forms of sexual misconduct, including what is and is not consent, prevalence of non-stranger sexual assault (acquaintance rape), drug facilitated sexual assault, the effects of sexual assault, how to report an assault, and available resources on campus and in the community. Adopt a procedure for community members seeking to file a complaint. The procedure should be written in easily understood language and widely disseminated so that students know it exists, how it works, and how to file a complaint. Train campus police, security personnel, and other individuals charged with responding to sexual victimization to effectively respond to sexual assault complaints. Make crisis intervention services available to students 24/7, every day of the school year, and make free emergency contraception, antibiotics and post-exposure HIV preventative treatment available in school health centers. Make long-term counseling services available for students, including access to unlimited free counseling for survivors. Provide annual educational programs regarding sexual assault. Promote reporting of sexual assaults by better handling of reports, having peer educators and advocates, and assuring that victims will not be punished if they report an assault that occurred while they were drinking or using drugs. Administer appropriate discipline, including suspension and expulsion, in order to eliminate the hostile environment, enable the victim to recapture her life, and prevent repeat offenders. NCAA Adopt a gender-violence policy that sets forth clear actions for individuals and schools that violate the guidelines. Pennsylvania Adopt legislation that protects individuals who testify in school internal judicial proceedings from being sued by persons against whom the judicial proceedings were brought. The current lack of legal protection deters victims...

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Solutions for Sexual Assault

To effectively combat rape and sexual assault in the U.S., an integrated response system and services infrastructure is required. Health Care Health care providers must screen for sexual assault. Services should be trauma-informed (respectful of patients as survivors, maximizing survivor control over recovery, respecting need for safety, emphasizing strengths, minimizing re-traumatization, and providing culturally competent services). Funding for sexual assault programs should be increased to provide more immediate and long-term support for victims of sexual assault. Insurers should be required to cover treatment of sexual trauma as a reimbursable mental health service. Law Enforcement The FBI should proceed with all deliberate speed to implement the change in the definition of rape in the Uniform Crime report so that accurate data about the true incidence of serious sex crimes can be reported to the public and appropriate resources directed to combat this violent crime. Leadership organizations such as the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), and the National Sheriffs’ Association must identify systemic gender bias in the handling of sex crimes and take steps to ensure local police authorities have effective policies, procedures, and training programs to improve their response to sex crimes. Local, State and federal police authorities should adopt policies that require full documentation and investigation of sex crime complaints, prohibit polygraphs, and require supervisory review for proper crime classification and unfounding. Local, state, and federal police authorities should implement training programs on victim behavior, interview techniques, and how to respond to victims of sexual assault. Pennsylvania General Assembly In 2012 Pennsylvania adopted a new law which allows for expert testimony in criminal cases involving sexual offenses. This law permits the prosecution or the defense to call experts who, because of their “experience with, or specialized training or education in, criminal justice, behavioral sciences or victim services,” can help juries and judges understand “the dynamics of sexual violence, victim responses to sexual violence and the impact of sexual violence on victims during and after being assaulted.” More resources must be allocated to victim services to increase the availability of counseling and advocacy services, free pregnancy counseling, and confidential testing for HIV/AIDs and...

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Solutions for Title IX

Schools must take steps to comply with Title IX. Schools must comply with the Pennsylvania Equal Rights Amendment’s requirement of equality under the law and prohibits denying opportunities to participate in sports based on sex. OCR must increase compliance audits and more effectively and efficiently process…

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Solutions for Paid Sick Leave

PA General Assembly should adopt paid leave legislation. PA should pass legislation to provide paid sick leave for families and leave for domestic and sexual violence victims to address the violence in their lives. This legislation should provide paid sick leave for routine illnesses, such as the common cold, thereby protecting coworkers and the public against the spread of...

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Solutions for Equal Pay

Congress should adopt The Paycheck Fairness Act. This Act would: Strengthen the protections guaranteed by the Equal Pay Act, passed in 1963. Close a loophole in defenses employers may assert for pay differences between men and women. Prohibit retaliation and strengthens penalties for equal pay violations. Authorize additional training for Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) staff. The EEOC is the government agency that enforces federal employment discrimination laws....

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Solutions for Abortion Rights

Abortion care must be affordable for all women who need it. Medicaid should fund all medically necessary abortion care for low-income women. Congress should repeal Hyde Amendment limits on Medicaid funding for abortions. Pennsylvania should repeal funding restrictions in the Abortion Control Act….

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Solutions for Reproductive Rights: Contraception

Family planning services should be cost-free for patients who cannot afford to pay for them and more accessible to women of all socio-economic classes. Family planning funding programs should be reauthorized and fully funded. Family planning services should be available to all, including undocumented immigrants. PA schools should replace abstinence-only education with comprehensive, evidence-based sexuality education. Funding of abstinence-only programs should be discontinued. Emergency contraception should be available at all hospitals that treat sexual assault survivors. Emergency contraception should be readily available at all state-licensed pharmacies and available without prescription for all females of child-bearing potential. PA should withdraw state funding from crisis pregnancy centers that disseminate misinformation on contraception, pregnancy, or...

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